Wednesday, January 31, 2007

And The Dirtiest School Cafeterias Are ... Or Why Hartford Government School Students Should Brown Bag It

Read all about it here: A report issued by a watchdog group, Center for Science in the Public Interest, states that schools in Washington, D.C., and Hartford, Conn., are among those lagging in keeping up with safety inspections and cleanliness.

They weren't counting actual food safety practices in cafeterias, or the number of disease outbreaks from contaminated food, but what they were looking at was whether school districts complied with federal laws requiring school cafeterias to be inspected at least twice per year and if they were also cited for frequent violations of safety standards, or didn't make their results easily accessible to the public.

The report found that 20 major school districts inspected showed wide-ranging inconsistency in meeting health standards. They also found that low performing school districts generally don't comply with federal laws regarding inspections.

Here are the school districts with failing grades in the CSPI's report. The highest grade possible is 100:

1) Hartford, Conn., Grade: 37
2) Washington, D.C., Grade: 46
3) Rhode Island, Grade: 54
4) Dade County, Fla., Grade: 59
5) (tie) Hillsborough County, Fla., Grade: 60
(tie) Minneapolis, Grade: 60

The report cites Hartford Public Schools for holding inspections only once per year, which is half as many as federal law has required since 2004. The CSPI said the district averages a national high of 2.7 health code violations per school and that it maintains no web site for disseminating results to parents. The district serves more than 18,000 meals per day to 24,000 students.

Terry D'Italia, a spokesman for Hartford Public Schools, said the district was "surprised and alarmed by the report." He also claimed that the data in the report are over a year old and that major changes have occurred in the district over that time. He says schools are now inspected twice per year and that they earn an average score of 94 out of 100.
OK Class, can you spell D-A-M-A-G-E-C-O-N-T-R-O-L ?

Five school districts earned CSPI's best overall grades. The highest grade possible is 100.

1) Fort Worth, Texas, Grade: 80
2) King County, Wash., Grade: 79
3) Houston, Grade: 78
4) Maricopa County (includes Phoenix), Ariz., Grade: 77
5) City and County of Denver, Grade: 75

Of the remaining 10 districts included in the report, three earned "passing" grades, in the low 70s: DeKalb County, Ga. (73), Farmington Valley Health District, Conn. (72), and Virginia (72).

Barely passing, with grades in the 60s, were: Fulton County, Ga. (includes Atlanta); Dallas; Philadelphia; Chicago; the city and county of San Francisco; and Montgomery County, Md.

Five school jurisdictions were considered out of the running because of a lack of information: Los Angeles, Cleveland, Boston, New York City, and Florida.

Well folks.. there you have it ... School Dining
Guess I'll head off to my kitchen and make some lunch.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Oh The Irony!

A report was filed by National Public Radio in mid-December which would be funny if it weren't so infuriating. It's just another indication of how screwed up government can be.

The Golden State Fence Company's work included millions of dollars worth of fencing around homes, offices, and military bases and constructing part of the border fence between San Diego and Mexico. Apparently the company in Southern California ended up paying almost $5 million in fines for hiring illegal immigrants! Two executives from the company may also serve jail time. The company's president and one of its Southern California managers will pay fines totaling $300,000. Golden State Fence's attorney, Richard Hirsch, admitted that his client broke the law, and to top it off he said that the case proves that construction companies need a guest-worker program.

Yeah, well how about hiring US citizens or people who have proper documentation? There are plenty of people who are unemployed who can do that sort of work. One just has to look at the huge lines of people applying for the jobs at Swift meat packing plants after the illegal alien employees there were caught and carted away.

The thing is that an immigration check way back in 1999 found undocumented workers on Golden State's payroll and they promised to take care of the problem. Fast forward to 2004 and 2005 when follow-up checks were done, and BINGO: some of the same illegal workers were still on the job! In fact, U-S Attorney Carol Lam said that about a third of the company's 750 workers may have been here in the US illegally.

One would think that before the US government contracts with a company that they would at least do a thorough check to see if the companies they are dealing with hire people who are here legally, especially if they are using these companies to build the very fences to keep illegals out!

I think that companies ought to be punished for hiring illegal aliens. I am glad Golden State got heavily fined. If there are no jobs available for illegals, then they will not come here. We wouldn't need a fence.

Mental Health Screening Gone Wild!

This website offers up some interesting information - including a peek at the surveys that schools are using to do mental health assessments. It features questions which interpret being self conscious when standing in front of a group of people, or being nervous before a big game in school as being signs of mental illness. It also asks personal questions and looks to me like if a kid hadn't thought about these things before, like committing suicide, that it could very well put the idea into their heads. Who out there doesn't have a daughter that has changed outfits more than twice a day? Check it out. This is one instance when exposure (of mental health surveys) is good.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Relics Of Democracy For Sale. Best Offer. You Pick Up.

This news report makes me very sad and very angry.
Sad because this mechanical lever machine voting is what I grew up with it and angry because it is such a waste to the taxpayer. The lever machines counted votes in Connecticut for decades, and I used these in New York State as well. Good working, vote tabulating machines are being tossed out so unnecessarily for what? To comply with new federal law that dictates to municipalities how we should vote. By November 2007, Connecticut's entire inventory of 3,300 lever machines are planned to be replaced with new machines in all 169 municipalities.

These old voting machines are perfectly fine to use. They count votes accurately and simply. I never minded that they weigh about 800 pounds each, are about 5 feet wide and have been in use since the 1950s. They worked! There really is no need to toss them out. It's so stupid. So wasteful.

As a result, towns either don't want to keep the old machines or can't, because of limited storage, and now must find a way to dispose of them. Some CT cities are recycling them for roughly $50 a piece, others have donated their machines to civic groups, schools and historical societies. It's certainly costing the taxpayer a pretty penny to replace them, whether it is federal money or state or local money .... IT'S STILL OUR TAX MONEY!!

25 towns and cities in Connecticut received optical scanner voting machines last year to replace the lever machines.
The secretary of the state contracted with LHS Associates to provide the state with 1,538 optical scan machines to replace all 3,300 mechanical lever voting machines by November 2007. LHS initially provided the state with 253 machines and 1,167 privacy booths. The state distributed these machines and booths to 25 municipalities chosen based on a survey. The 1,538 machines will cost the state a total of $ 15. 7 million.
They received these new voting machines from the state under the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA). The Act passed after the disputed 2000 presidential election. The act requires states to phase out mechanical lever machines and punch-card voting systems. I can definitely see why punch cards are a bad voting method, but the lever machines were fine.

There is lots of controversy over HAVA. This from Wikipedia
Critics of the bill point out that it imprudently attempts to solve one problem of punch-card voting machine errors seen in Florida in the 2000 election, by replacing them with expensive electronic voting machines that have no record of individual votes, and that it may represent an effort to help large electronic voting systems vendors such as Diebold Election Systems, Election Systems & Software, and Sequoia Voting Systems make millions of dollars throughout the country in selling electronic voting devices encouraged by HAVA
I tend to think that is probably the case; I mean, just follow the money. With regard to handicapped access to voting.. HAVA says that each polling place must have at least one voting machine accessible to persons with disabilities... so why scrap all the machines? How about just getting a few new machines to complement the ones we had in voting location? No.. we had to scrap them all. Looks like a good way to bring business to those voting machine vendors.

This Pro-Con piece tells how electronic voting machine manufacturers may have political party ties and that the new machines may give a particular party an advantage in winning an election. Actualy Pro-Con offers many interesting questions on their website with regard to HAVA. There have been many reports of bid-rigging and these vendors trying to sway states and municipalities to buy their machines.

Clearly vote tampering and inaccurate tallying can happen with these new machines, and the Op-Scan machines we'll be getting have their own issues.

In October 2006, The New York Times broke a story about the vendor Smartmatic/Sequoia having ties to Venezuela and Hugo Chavez. Some claim the Chávez government is some kind of secret partner in the company and is attempting to influence elections in the United States.

What I do know from all of this is that we need to restore faith in our voting system. With these new machines too much doubt has been injected into the process. The old lever machines were trustworthy, and understood by those operating them, and they were easy to use. The machines insured voting was private. They tabulated your vote with a lever click and that was that. We are moving into a world of computerized and untrustworthy voting systems, and I think that this will be a great loss for Democracy. People will tend not to vote if they do not trust the process. I'll bet you that lots of people will choose to vote via absentee ballot in this next election.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Unions and "Geoslavery"

It looks like the use of Biometrics has union members in a tizzy. They are beginning to object to being scanned and tracked.

The use of hand geometry and other biometric data is being used to log in people's time and attendance at the workplace. Now New York City government agency workers are complaining of "geoslavery" and are asserting that technology which has been developed for security purposes will be used to track, label and control workforces.

Folks are objecting to the invasion of privacy, and the taking of very personal measurements, in order to track you wherever you go. Some say that the biometric systems being installed are now giving the city a license to obtain personal, uniquely identifiable data to track workers.

One chilling comment made in this article:
"On the one hand I think people might all agree that if you put a GPS system in ambulances then that's a good thing. On the other hand you have an employer in Ohio who has demanded that two of his employees have chips implanted in their bodies."
"If these are the extremes, the question is where does the line get drawn?".
Clearly, people are starting to get a bit annoyed at this; enough so that the term "geoslavery" has emerged in our lexicon. It refers to a sophisticated form of slavery, where everyone is tracked via Global Positioning or other methods all the time. Science fiction? Apparently these union members in NYC are starting to see it as science fact.

I have read articles that suggest that we are not far away from technology that would realize combining geographic information systems (GIS) technology with a global positioning system (GPS) and a radio transmitter and receiver, so that someone easily can monitor your movements with or without your knowledge. Add to that a transponder -- either implanted into a person or in the form of a bracelet -- that sends an electric shock any time you step out of line, and that person actually can control your movements from a distance. That's technology that has an application in our prison system.

Consider that some of these technologies have already been used on animals. Of course there is "electric fence". The dog gets a shock if they get too close to the perimeter of their outdoor space. People also can implant RFID chips into their dogs. It's convenient if they stray and are picked up; no collar needed. Just bring them to the local vet and voila, they can be identified and returned to their owner.

Kids can be tracked as well. RFID chip technology is already being considered and used by school systems by placing them in kids' book bags or clothing. It's also being marketed to parents who wish to implant RFID chips into their kids for fear that their child might be abducted. Although the GPS part of it has not been implemented yet on RFID chips, we are for sure seeing the sale of cell phones which allow parents to track where their kids are.

Adults are being tracked as well. As it is - others can track your speed and which exits you enter and leave the highway when using "E-Z Pass" toll technology. It is quite possible that if you go from point A to point B on the highway within a certain amount of time, that you just might get a speeding ticket mailed to you automatically. "On-Star" can remotely lock or unlock your doors. Your car can also be started or stopped remotely.

The technology is being introduced slowly, and we all are getting accustomed to it in some way, shape or form. The article regarding union objections goes on to give these statistics:
In 2004, U.S. employers reportedly spent $9 billion on monitoring devices for the workplace, while a 2005 survey by American Management Association and The ePolicy Institute found 76 percent of companies monitor workers Web site use.

The survey of 526 U.S. companies also showed 36 percent of employers track computer content, keystrokes and time spent at the keyboard, while half store and review employees' computer files and 55 percent retain and review e-mail messages.

Only 5 percent used GPS in phones and 8 percent used GPS in company vehicles, while fingerprint scanning only accounted for 5 percent, facial recognition 2 percent and iris scans 0.5 percent.
Maybe it's not a lot, but it is setting up infrastructure, trial testing, and something that future technology can be built upon. Right now the full use of biometrics is not being realized because of cost to employers and businesses, but you can bet that once the cost comes down and it is shown to improve the bottom line it'll be used more.

Now tell me - What will you do if you cannot buy a car that cannot be tracked, and even controlled, remotely by others? How will you feel knowing that your movements going from place to place can be tracked? What would you do if your employer said - scan a body part for us, or get chipped, or be fired? Tough choice for some. What is your threshold for giving up your privacy and freedom?
They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.
- Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759
Can you be led to believe that these technologies will insure your security and safety? Will technology like this really enhance security and stop terrorism? I'm not so sure.

I think some of this technology is wonderful. It can even be useful in some situations, like preventing Alzheimer's patients from straying. However, we all know that technology can also have a dark side, and my hope is that we will still maintain our freedom and our privacy even as these technologies emerge. My feeling is that just because we can do something, like tracking and controlling human beings,that it also doesn't mean that we should.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Homeschooling: Do I Have to Teach Algebra?

Here's an article that I wrote a while ago for my state homeschool organization's newsletter. It will be part of my book that I am currently editing. I hope you'll find it worthwhile.

A question that I get asked most often regarding homeschooling a teenager is, "Yes, but how do you teach them stuff like chemistry or algebra"? My short answer is that I don't. Homeschooling a teenager requires less hand holding, as far as I am concerned. You become more of a facilitator and gatherer of resources than a direct instructor of those more erudite subjects. If you don't feel that you know enough about a subject to teach it to your child then you have a few options. One is to get a really good self teaching course for that particular subject, or one that you can both do together (thereby increasing your own knowledge), and the other is to hire someone to teach what you do not know. Homeschooling parents have the uncanny ability to get the experts to teach those kinds of things to their kids anyway. In any case, your child should be at least mildly interested in the subject matter or none of that will make a difference anyway.

If your child is really motivated, then a self-teaching course will do the trick nicely, and it will also allow for the flexibility to explore various offshoots of the material on their own. They can take their time with it and really go for the mastery of the subject. If you are doing the material together then you can figure it out together if you hit some concepts that are particularly difficult. My son wanted very much to do chemistry. I didn't remember much from my own high school chemistry (gee, that says something) so I opted for getting chemistry supplies and a program. I was actually fortunate to borrow supplies so I didn't have to buy them. The program was called "Experiences in Chemistry", and it was basically a book of lab experiments and it explained many of the concepts in Chemistry. My son worked through the labs and the material and that was his chemistry course. We both thought that it was a really good and challenging program of study. We also added on various videotapes from the library and episodes of NOVA to supplement the program. It isn't very difficult to craft your own program, and it is actually very neat to zero in on the things that really interest your child.

Another path that I mentioned is to find an expert to teach your child. One year we had a group of teens that was interested in learning Anthropology. The parents knew about Anthropology, but not enough to really teach it. We got a hold of the state anthropologist and asked him if he'd be interested in teaching some weekly classes to the kids. Now, one thing you have to remember about this is that the experts are thrilled about having an audience to impart their knowledge to. The biggest gain from this is that the expert is usually so passionate about what they have expertise in, that their enthusiasm will be evident and contagious to your child. It will definitely make the learning experience more interesting, as the teacher is not just going through the motions of teaching from a text. Sometimes the experts are so thrilled about the prospect of educating young minds about their subject, they may even offer to do it for free, and they can even be very flexible in their time to do a class. Suffice it to say that this Anthropology class was amazing. The kids were in rapt attention each class and the professor was thrilled to teach it. It was a win-win situation all around, especially to the parents who were grateful to have an expert in the field teach their kids. We have been able to do this numerous times for language instruction, Geology class, History, and a myriad of other subjects.

Another avenue that you shouldn't overlook is having your kids take community college or local college level courses while a "high schooler". Colleges do offer classes in subjects like Algebra and Chemistry and Biology, and you are eligible to attend them based on all of the kids that I have known who have done this. Community colleges will admit kids who are 15 (maybe younger) and usually they take a placement test in order to register for classes. You child may be considered a non-matriculated student in a non-degree program of study - as well as have part-time status. Some colleges have dual enrollment programs that you have to inquire about and apply for. Some of those programs may even be free of cost, except for registration fees and books. The nice thing about it is that in some cases you can transport those college credits with you when you apply for college as a full time student at a later date.

We have also been able to take advantage of some of the wonderful museums in our area. They have some superb programs to offer and very knowledgeable people in their fields conducting them. We have done programs at places like MIT and the Boston Science Museum. My teens have done very specialized programs in Robotics and DNA science. These are clearly subjects that are far from the realm of what I know, but my limited knowledge in those areas have nothing to do with what my kids will learn, or have learned, in their high school homeschool experience.

Friday, January 26, 2007

USA Wakeup

Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free. - Ronald Reagan
The website USAWakeUp was put together by Stewart R. Gable, Colonel USAF [Ret'd], Nam, Fighter Pilot 1968, 107 mission North. He warns of the deterioration of the Four Instruments of our National Power:


This website is alarming, disturbing, interesting, and has a message you probably ought to hear. It presents a point of view and message worth listening to and at least knowing about. You can be alarmed at what Stewart Gable has to say, or you can just dismiss it as fear mongering. We all have the choice to wake up and be mindful of the lessons that history teaches us and make predictions about what could happen if we examine the events and warning signs around us, or we could dismiss people like Stewart Gable, label him a wingnut, and just go back to sleep. As for me I want to listen to what is being said, get the facts, and then decide for myself if what I am hearing is credible, as well as what actions I need to take. But I will tell you one thing; much of my family and my husband's family perished in Hitler's camps and ovens, so I totally get what happens when warning signs are ignored or marginalized. I believe there certainly some things on the horizon that we need to deal with. I may not believe all that is said by Col. Gable, but thought it was worth sharing.

The website contains a few other flash movie presentations. Here is one which is definitely not Politically Correct.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

“A Constitution in Every Pocket”

Now here is a cause I can support. I even carry a pocket size copy of The Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution in my purse.

Liberty Day is a non-profit, non-partisan volunteer effort to educate Americans about the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Their website may be a little dated (they are updating it), but their goal is to work in conjunction with educators, parents, civic organizations, and government officials to provide them with ways to reach America's youth with the facts of our founding documents.

One of their programs involves teaching 8-11 year olds questions & answers about the Constitution and planning a fun, interactive event where they get to quiz adults about what they have learned. They usually hold their events at places such as state capitols, post offices, universities, and municipal forums.

A second program involves inviting speakers with civic service and government experience into classrooms, and other venues. Afterwards students complete assignments related to the Constitutional message.

Their ultimate goal is to help future generations of leaders understand the nature of our government as intended – these documents belong to the people. Their slogan is “A Constitution in every pocket.” They have no political agenda. They believe that educating Americans is our future.

I have supported Liberty Day. I believe this to be a worthwhile effort, and certainly one which homeschoolers can take advantage of.

It saddens me how our primary documents are becoming less accessible. Encyclopedia Brittanica had a marvelous set of books, “The Annals of America,” and they stopped printing it. It was filled with letters, speeches and all kinds of historical documents of importance and interest. If you are lucky, you might still be able to get a set on EBay.

In any case, check out Liberty Day - maybe you can organize a March 16 celebration of our founding documents by working with someone from your state who is already a Liberty Day co-ordinator. Check their website for contact information.

You can obtain your own pocket copy of our founding documents, but I think we all know a few legislators who should get a copy of these documents and read them too!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Thank You, Lord Baden-Powell. Today In 1908 The Boy Scouts Movement Was Started

My son is an Eagle Scout - I would be remiss if I did not mention today's milestone for an organization that has helped millions of boys become independent young men. I grew up with scouting and remember many summers at Ten Mile River family camp in New York State.

We are a scouting family. I am proud of that. My dad was a Boy Scout leader, and my brother is also an Eagle Scout. My husband was in the scouts, and until a while ago was an assistant scout master in my son's troop. My husband's father was also an assistant scout master in my husband's troop. In my youth I was in the Girl Scouts. My daughter was in Girl Scouts and I was a co-leader of her troop.

I think scouting is great because it helps to build independent young adults, teaches the kids incredible skills, and hones their abilities. Hiking, Cooking, Camping, and all the rest; it builds confident and capable men and women and creates memories that last a lifetime.

So today I am posting the historical background of the scouting movement from the Today In History website.
On January 24, 1908, the Boy Scouts movement begins in England with the publication of the first installment of Robert Baden-Powell's Scouting for Boys. The name Baden-Powell was already well known to many English boys, and thousands of them eagerly bought up the handbook. By the end of April, the serialization of Scouting for Boys was completed, and scores of impromptu Boy Scout troops had sprung up across Britain.

In 1900, Baden-Powell became a national hero in Britain for his 217-day defense of Mafeking in the South African War. Soon after, Aids to Scouting, a military field manual he had written for British soldiers in 1899, caught on with a younger audience. Boys loved the lessons on tracking and observation and organized elaborate games using the book. Hearing this, Baden-Powell decided to write a nonmilitary field manual for adolescents that would also emphasize the importance of morality and good deeds.

First, however, he decided to try out some of his ideas on an actual group of boys. On July 25, 1907, he took a diverse group of 21 adolescents to Brownsea Island in Dorsetshire where they set up camp for a fortnight. With the aid of other instructors, he taught the boys about camping, observation, deduction, woodcraft, boating, lifesaving, patriotism, and chivalry. Many of these lessons were learned through inventive games that were very popular with the boys. The first Boy Scouts meeting was a great success.

With the success of Scouting for Boys, Baden-Powell set up a central Boy Scouts office, which registered new Scouts and designed a uniform. By the end of 1908, there were 60,000 Boy Scouts, and troops began springing up in British Commonwealth countries across the globe. In September 1909, the first national Boy Scout meeting was held at the Crystal Palace in London. Ten thousand Scouts showed up, including a group of uniformed girls who called themselves the Girl Scouts. In 1910, Baden-Powell organized the Girl Guides as a separate organization.

The American version of the Boy Scouts has it origins in an event that occurred in London in 1909. Chicago publisher William Boyce was lost in the fog when a Boy Scout came to his aid. After guiding Boyce to his destination, the boy refused a tip, explaining that as a Boy Scout he would not accept payment for doing a good deed. This anonymous gesture inspired Boyce to organize several regional U.S. youth organizations, specifically the Woodcraft Indians and the Sons of Daniel Boone, into the Boy Scouts of America. Incorporated on February 8, 1910, the movement soon spread throughout the country. In 1912, Juliette Gordon Low founded the Girl Scouts of America in Savannah, Georgia.

In 1916, Baden-Powell organized the Wolf Cubs, which caught on as the Cub Scouts in the United States, for boys under the age of 11. Four years later, the first international Boy Scout Jamboree was held in London, and Baden-Powell was acclaimed Chief Scout of the world. He died in 1941.
The Boy Scouts of America website is here
Wikipedia offers an amazing list of Eagle Scouts here.

Scout Oath or Promise
On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.

Scout Law
A Scout is ...
trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly,
courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful,
thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.

Scout Motto
Be Prepared.

For me and mine.. it's all good stuff. Thanks again to the founders, and the parents across our nation that volunteer their time to keep it going. Ahhh.. the smell of the campfire on a warm July evening.. so many good memories.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Math Education: An Inconvenient Truth

M.J. McDermott explains the current state of math education in 4th and 5th grades in this YouTube video. Every parent of a child learning mathematics should watch this video.

It will astound you how "reform mathematics" is creating kids in this country who cannot compute, and now we know why.

M.J. totally fleshes out why and how the new mathematics programs create kids that cannot work alone, do not have math fluency, (they have no knowledge of mathematics symbols) and lack a basic knowledge of math skills. She explains why kids end up completely dependent on calculators for simple math computations.

It is quite an eye opener to see what math textbooks and programs our tax money is being used to pay for, and how these programs are creating a generation of math illiterates in the process.

If you have a child in school, you should make an effort to see what mathematics curriculum they are using. As for us homeschoolers... well, let's just say now I know why our kids are doing so well; we don't buy into these kinds of new fangled programs. The programs M.J. talks about make little sense in practical use, and in the end do not teach kids the real math skills that they need to know.

Do you realize that there are some high school geometry courses that no longer require a student to do proofs! Did you hear that noise? I think it was Pythagoras and Euclid turning over in their graves.

While textbook publishers share the blame here, I think we can all thank the NCTM standards which have helped to confuse, dumb down, and eventually mentally cripple our nation's students. One should not forget, however, that school boards and school systems are ultimately the ones that choose and pay for their curriculum. Do you know what your tax dollar is buying these days in your local schools?

This post is dedicated to Denise over at Let's Play Math; one math resource I certainly enjoy.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Birthdays Without Pressure

"Seven year olds in rural Minnesota get picked up by stretch limos to transport them to a friend’s party."

"A three year old’s parents in the same community rent a fire station for party #1, and a private club with a pool for party #2."

"A six year old girl and her friends in St. Paul get makeovers and dance in public as part of a “starlet” package at a party business."
Now here is a website that overachieving parents who are keeping up with the Joneses ought to read! You gotta take a few minutes and check it out! It's a website created by a small group of parents and professionals in St. Paul, Minnesota with a vision to launch a local and national conversation about how kids birthday parties have gotten out of control.

The stories are true, hysterically funny, and sad all in the same breath. I know these people - they live in my town too. After raising 3 kiddos and seeing some of the parties they were invited to, one has to wonder who is the party really for? The kid or the parents? I recall one parent who sent out invitations to a hockey party, rented out the local ice skating rink, and pretty much demanded that kids attending should bring a regulation NHL piece of equipment as a gift (they didn't want the cheap stuff) for their kid. My kid stayed home.

I also had a friend of mine whose 7 year old daughter was picked up by stretch limo and whisked off for a spa day with her friends.

As for me and my kids it was ice cream, cake, pin the tail on the donkey, a few games and lots of laid back fun in our house. Sometimes we'd do a party at the karate place, the roller rink, or the science museum. The only real big blow out party was when they had their bar and bat mitzvah celebrations and even that was low key in comparison to some of their friends' events (which tended to be more like a $15,000 wedding affair).

So what do you do for birthdays?

(H/T Leann S.)

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Some Good News For CT Parents Who Want To Homeschool Their Kids

CT State Representative Arthur O'Neill has recently introduced a proposed bill which strengthens parental rights in CT. The bill HB5883 - AN ACT CONCERNING WITHDRAWAL FROM SCHOOL, makes sure that schools cannot continue the recent practice of keeping children on their enrollment lists after they have received a letter of withdrawal from parents/guardians.

What this bill seeks to fix is the fact that in the past few years there have been numerous instances like this: when parents have sent a letter of withdrawal to their school administrators the schools have kept the children on enrollment lists and then declared the child truant and subject to Department of Children and Family (DCF) report and investigation for educational neglect, when the child didn't attend school. Threatening letters are sent to the parents. Schools begin legal action regarding claims of truancy and educational neglect. Sometimes DCF shows up at the family's doorstep. Parents have been brought to court over this issue by the school system, and their children have been threatened with removal from the home. So far after much cost and grief, the cases are dismissed or the charges by the school administration are dropped. Some cases in CT are still under investigation. The threats to parents who wish to dis-enroll their children remain.

It is a shameful abuse of authority, and parents are being forced to sign documents that they do not wish to sign and they are not obligated to sign. What these school systems are practicing is coercion, harassment, and filing false police reports, all of which are serious crimes in CT. In fact, coercion is a violation of a criminal statute which subjects violators to time in jail and a fine. Parents may have to begin initiation of legal action if the problems persist.

In the past, parents never had problems withdrawing their children from school, and sometimes all it took was a phone call or a verbal exchange telling the administrator that their child would not be returning to school. The school would remove the child from the enrollment list and that was that. Now, the State Board of Education, and administrators in some school districts, apparently are taking the stance that the child is not dis-enrolled unless and until the school gives it's approval! So now we see that legislation must be spelled out to protect parental rights in CT.

Actually, school boards across the country have been attempting to make withdrawal from school "conditional". That is, that you may not withdraw you child from public school unless certain conditions are met. We are starting to see a pattern emerge. Imagine that you cannot dis-enroll your child from school unless you or your child get mental health tests, or if you adhere to certain set standards, or must use certain curriculum, or that home visits are required. It's a control issue for sure.

With regard to the problems which have come up with this in CT, I, along with others, have personally met with the former Education Commissioner (Betty Sternberg), the Governors office, and DCF about this issue and everyone agrees that this is a problem that should be addressed, and it hasn't. So now we need a legislative remedy. You may want to check your state's laws regarding withdrawal, if there are any. Our kids must not be kept as hostages in the public school system, and parents must not be coerced into doing things that they don't want to do in order to remove their child from government schools.

The proposed language is as follows:
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Assembly convened:

That subsection (a) of section 10-220 of the general statutes be amended to provide when a parent or guardian of a child provides by certified mail, return receipt requested, to the principal of the school that the child attends or to the superintendent of the local or regional board of education, written notice originated by and signed by the parent or guardian of a child stating that the parent or guardian is withdrawing the child from enrollment in a public school and will provide instruction for the child as required pursuant to section 10-184 of the general statutes, the principal of the school that the child attends or the local or regional board of education shall accept such notice and shall deem the child withdrawn from enrollment in the public school immediately upon receipt of such notice.
Kudos to Representative O'Neill for proposing this legislation. My fervent hope is that all CT parents as well as CT homeschoolers will contact their CT state legislators and ask them to support this legislation. The bill has gone to the Education Committee for consideration. Co-Chairman of the Education Committee is House Representative Andrew Fleischmann, my former opponent in the last election. He is my representative and has blocked the passage of this legislation the last two times it appeared as an amendment to other bills. He claims he is a friend of homeschooling, and in the past has praised homeschooling parents for their dedication... we'll see if he will support this bill this time, which would protect parental rights and allow parents to withdraw their children from school without the threat of having their children taken away from them.

When a date is set for a public hearing I will post it here.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Spend A Night At The Museum !

I just love it!

Parents and their children are visiting the American Museum of Natural History (NYC) in droves after the smash hit "Night at the Museum", which was partially filmed at the historic building. I think this time Hollywood got it right when they created a movie that sparks the imagination and prompts thousands to visit, and support, natural history museums.

The American Museum of Natural History has seen a 20 percent boost in attendance this past holiday season because of the family film, which stars Ben Stiller as a museum night watchman who must deal with exhibits that come to life. About 250,000 visitors went to the museum between Dec. 22 and Jan. 7, which is nearly 50,000 more than the same time last year. The spike is attributed partly to the movie and partly because of increased tourism to New York in general.
"The movie has generated a lot of interest," said museum president Ellen V. Futter. "But there's also just terrific excitement about the museum right now especially with some of our exhibits like the live butterflies and the gorgeous gold exhibit."
The museum started a sleep-over program, focusing on children between the ages of 8 and 12, along with their parents or other accompanying adults. Participants, paying $79 each, are asked to bring a sleeping bag and are given cots and light snacks. Futter said the program has been hugely popular and is sold out until June.
The sleepover program has this description:
Break out your sleeping bags and experience the American Museum of Natural History like never before—roaming the halls after the doors close! This unique after-hours chance to explore the Museum's halls, see a Space Show, participate in special activities, and much more will thrill kids ages 8–12 and their caregivers. As the night winds down, you'll camp out under the watchful eye of the blue whale in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life. Includes an evening snack and light breakfast.
Other natural history museums across the country such as the Field Museum in Chicago and the New York Hall of Science have found success with the sleepover programs as well. My local natural history museums have sleepover programs which my kids have attended. They are really pretty cool and well worth the money.

Anything that brings our youth out to experience the wonderful exhibits in our museums is a huge success in my book. To my homeschool readers: This is definitely something to consider for a homeschool field trip !
Read more here.

New Haven Coliseum Implosion

I blogged late today because we were down in New Haven to see the implosion of the New Haven Coliseum . We viewed it from my son's office on Chapel Street on the Penthouse floor. We felt the building shake a bit. Lots of smoke and debris flew about. It was pretty cool to watch. Equally as stunning was the crowds that came out to see it at 7:45 in the morning!

We took some video but someone else posted their video on YouTube and you might want to check it out.

3-2-1 ka-boom...

Friday, January 19, 2007

In A Related Story - Privacy Piracy Cont'd

More on Government data mining from CT.
Action Sought To Shield Kids From Marketers
A state agency report has recommended that lawmakers create a registry to shield youngsters from the marketing of illegal or illicit products, despite a constitutional challenge to a similar Utah database.

The Department of Consumer Protection said a registry of "contact points" used by children - such as e-mail addresses, cellphone, pager and fax numbers - would help prevent illicit or illegal products and services from being marketed to minors.
Yes, so let's give our teenagers e-mail addresses, cellphone numbers and pager numbers to a state agency so they can be placed on a "Do Not Call" list. Apparently Michigan, in addition to Utah, has such a registry.

I can see people who spam pornography and other unsavory messages will make every attempt to make sure that they don't send nasty stuff to these contacts. Sure.

Our Governor believes we have an obligation to protect minors from commercial messages that are inappropriate to their age as well as commercial messages that solicit them to buy items that they are already precluded by law from buying - like pornography, illegal drugs, firearms and other weapons. Somehow they think that a registry can be created which insures the privacy of both registrants and senders while providing real benefits to law enforcement. There is a process called "scrubbing" that is done to the solicitors' lists before they can be used.

Well, call me skeptical.. but in the end I don't think the government or solicitors should have contact information for our teens. My 15 year old daughter says the best way to combat spam is to use the delete key.

Privacy Piracy

Data Mining is a huge business these days. It is getting to be so prevalent that we are being asked to provide all kinds of information almost on a daily basis. Sometimes our information is provided to others without us really being made aware.

Data mining is happening to you as you shop, when you pay your bills, and when you search for information on-line. Sometimes its for a good purpose and is beneficial to us; like when credit card issuers use data-mining to look for patterns of suspicious or unusual activity regarding your credit card use. That can indicate that your card has been stolen. Other times data mining can be a bit more suspicious in nature, and still other times it is down right annoying and intrusive. Using EZ Pass on the highway lets others know where you go and when. Shopper cards tell others what you buy and how often. Your health insurer knows how much medication you buy, and somebody surely knows what magazines you subscribe to.

Lots of bits of information about you is collected and other people make it their job to put all the pieces together to construct a profile. I guess we can say "so what"... but there is a sense of privacy and anonymity that is being lost. If I think about it long enough it does creep me out a bit. It seems so Orwellian. I guess we are supposed to just become immune to it and accept it as an unsavory result of technology, just like we are supposed to become de-sensitized to the camera surveillance that seems to be around in most public places. We are a generation that is being tracked and monitored in many ways, and it is not supposed to bother us.

We ought to be outraged that psycho-social information is being collected from our kids in school,oft times without parental knowledge. That information is being used in very questionable ways, and we ought to be asking the question: What is being done with this information? Parents should be made aware of programs like the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), which was first developed in 1990 by the Center for Disease Control. It's a prime example of government data mining.

Last year an article, "US Plans Massive Data Sweep", was put out by the Christian Science Monitor, which outlined some pretty unsettling information about a little known system dubbed "ADVISE". Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight, and Semantic Enhancement (ADVISE) is only mentioned by a few public documents. ADVISE is a research and development program within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and is part of its three-year-old "Threat and Vulnerability, Testing and Assessment" portfolio. The TVTA received nearly $50 million in federal funding last year.

A major part of ADVISE involves data-mining - or "dataveillance," as some call it. It means sifting through data to look for patterns. here's what the CS Monitor reported:
What sets ADVISE apart is its scope. It would collect a vast array of corporate and public online information - from financial records to CNN news stories - and cross-reference it against US intelligence and law-enforcement records. The system would then store it as "entities" - linked data about people, places, things, organizations, and events, according to a report summarizing a 2004 DHS conference in Alexandria, Va. The storage requirements alone are huge - enough to retain information about 1 quadrillion entities, the report estimated. If each entity were a penny, they would collectively form a cube a half-mile high - roughly double the height of the Empire State Building.
Privacy laws have placed restrictions on government use of private data - such as medical records, but they don't prevent intelligence agencies from obtaining information by buying it from commercial data collectors.

I am glad to know that some Congressmen are awake. This appeared in one recent article in the Washington Times:
Sen. Russ Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat said: "The possibility of unchecked, secret use of data-mining technology threatens one of the most important values that we are fighting for in the war against terrorism -- freedom."
Former Rep. Bob Barr, a Georgia Republican who recently became an activist for the Libertarian Party, told the panel that data mining poses a "serious threat" to the First, Second, Fourth and Fifth amendments to the Constitution.
"That is nearly half of the Bill of Rights," he said.
Talk about Big Brother watching! Now I am all for "catching the terrorists", but I am not so keen on getting Average Joe Citizen caught up in the dragnet. This also has HUGE implication regarding privacy issues. With all the uproar about identity theft and misuse of information, one always should consider what happens to the information that is being collected. Who uses it? Is it being stored and protected? How can I change it if it is incorrect? Shouldn't we be in charge of our own personal data?

I know that I am more careful now about giving out any of my personal information to anyone, but I am also concerned about the information people are collecting about me that I may not be aware of. Don't get me wrong, I am not paranoid.. but I am aware of data mining and how we are as a society becoming so nonchalant and accepting of various forms of personal monitoring and surveillance. So next time your in some store's parking lot, give a wave to the camera above and say "cheese".

Just for Fun:
Rockwell Music Video: Somebody's Watching Me ... Lyrics

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Banning Skin Shocks - Some Parents Say NO!

The New York State Board of Regents wants to ban the use of skin shocks on students, and surprisingly, parents of the children are opposing the new policy. The article cited is a short but very eye-opening read.
In New York State The Board of Regents is expected to approve a policy that would ban skin shocks and other controversial measures to control troubled students’ behavior, by July 2009, despite objections from families that say it has saved their children’s lives.

The new regulations would only allow the use of skin shocks, which are mild two-second electrical impulses, and other "aversive behavioral interventions," such as withholding meals and exposing a child to noxious odors, with the permission of a review board for a specific child...

The policy is largely a response to complaints about the use of skin shocks at the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Canton, Mass., where New York sends some of its special education students, and other types of behavior-modification techniques at preschools for disabled children. About 50 of the students New York sends to Judge Rotenberg receive skin shocks, in which electrical pulses are sent to one of several receivers on a student’s body. In 2005-06, the state paid $33.4 million to the Rotenberg Center.

Parents of students at the center and the school itself have sued the state over the issue. Parents say the shocks are the only treatment that has worked to control their children, and positive-only behavioral therapy does not work in the most difficult cases. Many of the students treated at the center have been in other programs without success. They have severe behavioral disorders and have done things like try to gouge their eyes out or vomit to the point of starvation and even attempted murder, according to a written statement from the school. Many students are severely retarded or autistic.
Other requirements in the policy would:

-- Prohibit the use of aversive behavioral interventions in preschool programs.

-- Require that applications for exemptions for specific children be submitted annually to the state.

-- Clarify that such interventions can be considered only for children who are injuring themselves or is behaving in a way that could harm others.

-- Bar the simultaneous use of physical or mechanical restraint with other aversive behavioral interventions.

-- Set up new procedures for allowing the use of time-out rooms, monitoring of students in time-out rooms and documentation of incidents resulting in such punishment.

Accompanying comments to the article indicate that the state has not done enough to protect kids in the past, and that this policy still allows for mistreatment of kids. :
There have been numerous injuries and deaths reported nationwide from the inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion. There is a federal law that says that developmentally disabled students may NOT be exposed to physical restraint or seclusion for punishment purposes. It is the policy of federal agencies that restraint and seclusion are not to be used. And yet NYSED and the NYS Board of Regents have just gone ahead and said that they can be used with disabled students.

Some of us believe that the Regents have approved amendments that violate the constitutional rights of disabled students. We will continue to pursue all alternatives to get these amendments overturned by whatever means necessary. If NYSED and the Board of Regents do not protect the health and safety of disabled youth in NYS, the we hope that the state legislature, courts, or relevant federal agencies will.
I posted a related story reported on in CT. Is your state examining how children in institutions, and schools are being treated? Are you surprised to learn that forms of electro shock therapy are still being employed? What do you think? Should shocks be used as a way of controlling behavior in children? Despite what they say it is pretty painful. On top of this, the use of "electroshock" technology is being spread to law enforcement in the use of Taser guns which are already being used (and misused) even in my own town (I believe the man is suing the police department).

So... let's see now... How about you read what the definition of torture is as put out by the U.S. government (Department of Justice). It seems to me that if electro shocks and withholding food was done to people in custody in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison or in "Gitmo" then civil rights people would be all over it. So why should American kids, and especially disabled kids, in special "educational" institutions be any different? and why wait until 2009 to implement the ban? How many kids will experience pain and even death before then? What can be done to better "manage" kids who they claim cannot be managed any other way than with use of electro shock and other disturbing methods?

Here's more on the subject.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Happy Birthday Ben!

Yup - Today is Ben Franklin's birthday.
Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston on January 17, 1706. He was the tenth son of soap maker, Josiah Franklin. Benjamin's mother was Abiah Folger, the second wife of Josiah.
Among other things, he was a writer, inventor, printer, statesman, activist, and philosopher. Franklin died on April 17, 1790 at the age of 84. He was well liked and well known. 20,000 people attended his funeral. Many called him "the harmonious human multitude."

He is known for his wisdom which he has left for us in his many quotes. I believe that my husband, a brewmaster in his own right, probably likes this quote best:
"Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy."
These are my favorites:
They that can give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.
- Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759

Without Freedom of Thought there can be no such Thing as Wisdom; and no such Thing as Public Liberty, without Freedom of Speech.
- Benjamin Franklin, writing as Silence Dogood, No. 8, July 9, 1722

We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.
- Benjamin Franklin (attributed), at the signing of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776
A timeline of his life is here.

TeenScreen - The Last Straw

Doyle Mills just released an excellent article about TeenScreen. It is definitely worth the time to read it. Mental Health Screening in our public schools needs to be stopped. Mr. Mills outlines many reasons why.

Here are some excerpts:
TeenScreen is a highly controversial child suicide screening initiative with major ties to pharmaceutical companies. It is simply a marketing ploy to funnel massive numbers of our youth into the mental health system. An Internet search will pull up literally thousands of websites, articles and blogs critical of the program. Almost daily, newspapers publish articles and letters with the message that TeenScreen is a dangerous program, aimed at turning normal teenagers into new customers for the multi-billion dollar psycho-pharmaceutical industry.

With public opinion against it, TeenScreen is on the defense. They are attempting to promote carefully crafted messages - over and over again. These "talking points" are seen every time a TeenScreen staffer is interviewed, and repeated in letters from TeenScreen's director, Leslie McGuire and local TeenScreen worker bees. With Rabin Strategic Partners, a high-dollar New York PR firm, at their disposal, such a coordinated strategy is of course expected. Yet, these talking points do not actually answer the hard questions posed by the program‘s critics. Instead they utilize a simple technique known as the “straw man argument”.

A straw man argument is a way of trying to win a debate while completely avoiding the actual subject at hand. It is done by taking a statement from one’s opponent and altering it so that it becomes ridiculous and thus easy to defeat. This is commonplace in politics. A candidate says “We need to be careful with our spending” and the other side sets up a straw man argument by saying: “My opponent wants to cut benefits to people who really need it.” It’s a dishonest way of trying to win the battle for public opinion. It’s a sign of desperation and an admission that one cannot confront the actual issues.

TeenScreen uses a handful of predictable statements to defend themselves. Unfortunately for TeenScreen, for Rabin, and for the pharmaceutical companies, these arguments are easily shot down by anyone who is willing to do a little research and who understands the straw man argument.
Mr. Mills carefully outlines the "straws" and manages to refute every single one.

TeenScreen and other mental health screening programs are under attack, with good reason. Our children, and their children, are in danger and we cannot let public policy based on these flawed programs be decided by straw man arguments. We have to demand that TeenScreen, and other screening programs answer the tough questions and the real concerns. Then our lawmakers, school personnel, and most importantly PARENTS can make the right decisions regarding our kids.

It appears that schools are beginning to practice medicine without a license, by definition of state statutes, and that this is creating a huge liability for our school systems. Constitutional cases have pointed out time and time again that a child's health is not the responsibility of the school system, it is the responsibility of the parent.

Screening programs are prone to a high percentage of false positive identifications. As a result, kids are being funneled into the pipeline of therapy and being medicated unnecessarily which is ultimately destructive to their health and well being. In my opinion, this practice results in "risk of injury to a minor", and that schools should be charged accordingly if they continue to screen children, especially without full informed parental consent.

Video for you to watch: TeenScreen Controversy
and a Petition for you to sign if you are so inclined to voice your vote against TeenScreen. (There's over 16,500 "signatures" already).

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Papers ! ..... Show Me Your Papers ! reports that states across the country will have to begin to comply with stringent federal identification rules required by the 2005 Real ID Act. These are supposed to be new statutes to crack down on illegal aliens and is also a response to the fact that four of the 19 foreign hijackers on Sept. 11 had obtained valid U.S. driver’s licenses.

Suffice it to say, many states are passing their own immigration bills and laws regarding identification because they have been fed up by the federal government’s inability, or unwillingness, to stop illegal border crossings.

Millions of Americans will have to dig out documents (such as Social Security cards, birth certificates, and other proof of citizenship) out of safe-keeping or go to the expense of getting them reproduced, in order to renew their driver’s licenses or obtain social services. Four states – Georgia, Montana, New Hampshire and New York – already require Medicaid applicants to prove their citizenship. That's probably a good thing, but it's also creating problems for caseworkers and has been an impossible task for homeless people and people who have lost documents in personal tragedies like house fires. In some places it has become a Catch-22 where true citizens can’t get an identity card unless they’ve already got one.

The 2005 Real ID Act (Federal Act) is supposed to be a dragnet for terrorists, and illegal aliens, but real citizens of the US will also be affected and made to produce paperwork that they may not just have hanging around the house in a drawer. We also do not want to become like Fascist countries that require people to carry their identification papers everywhere they go. Texas Congressman Ron Paul has spoken out against this legislation. As of April 26, 2006, there was a bill which had passed committee in the New Hampshire Senate that would keep NH out of the 2005 Real ID Act. The NH bill had previously passed the NH House.

Lee Tien, an attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco consumer advocacy group that opposes national ID standards says that he worries that large government databases of personal information will be a threat to privacy and could expose consumers to identify theft and fraud. Others are concerned that technology such as sub-dermal implanted RFID chips will eventually be the means to carry personal identification.

We need to do something about illegal immigration and terrorism, but making US citizens carry National ID cards around with them seems very Un-American to me. To all who claim that we already do, by virtue of our drivers' licenses, somehow I just do not see that as quite the same thing.

FYI - Two RFID blogs that are worth reading are here and here.

Monday, January 15, 2007

A New Phase for Kids And Parents - "Adultolescence"

Social Scientists have come up with a new stage of your kids' growth called "Adultolescence", describing a period following college that can last five or more years. No joke !

This was recently reported in Money Magazine.
Citing the statistic that 2 out of 3 college graduates return to live at home. Those kids are being called "boomerang kids". The article goes on to say why, and how this is causing a new stage of parenting which has financial ramifications galore for you as a parent - about $5,000 a year, on average, in assistance. Your kid is also affected emotionally because (s)he now may have to live under your roof and abide by your rules, which may cause huge conflict. Some situations translate into you shelling out money to run not only your household, but theirs as well. How they spend your contribution/loan/help can be a bone of contention as well. There's lots of guilt and other emotional issues that come out of all of this.

The article points out some astounding points:
How did adultolescence come about? Blame rising college costs and rampant consumerism. Today the average graduate emerges with nearly $20,000 in student loans and $4,000 in credit-card debt. Meanwhile, (s)he faces a world in which rents have skyrocketed over recent decades but starting salaries, adjusted for inflation, have dropped 17%. (S)he can't cut it, so (s)he falls back on the bank of Mom and Dad for support in the form of either cash or an invitation to move back home.
My husband and I actually think that their cited estimate of a graduate's debt is on the low side. Most of what we have heard suggests that it is a bit higher than $24,000 in loans and consumer debt. In general, parents are supposed to help their offspring weather this period and come out the other side standing on their own two financial feet. The article points our some tips and techniques to help do this.

Apparently there are two types of "Adultolescence" - one where you see it coming (so it is planned) because you know that their wages after college graduation won't cover their expenses of paying back student loans, etc., and so you have them come live at home so they can stash some cash for awhile. The other is unplanned, and is a result of the kids' inability to maintain independence for financial reasons. You end up paying to run your household as well as his, because it would be disastrous for him to come back to live at your house.

I find this interesting on many levels, and as a homeschooling parent, I believe most of us take great pains to make sure that our kids can function independently. We are often criticized for engaging our kids in helping out around the house, doing chores, getting a job, and learning other "life skills" as part of their homeschooling experience. Some of our kids attend colleges like community colleges early on, while living at home, so that they can accrue college credits and possibly minimize the cost of their degree overall. I also think that homeschoolers may have a better sense of who they are and what they want to do with their life, because they give it some thought; they have time to do that. This absolutely minimizes the time wasted in college deciding on a field of study. Homeschoolers, I think, are probably more intimately aware of what goes into working for a living and how a household should be run. I think we are more apt to share family financial issues and how to solve them, or at least deal with them. I think on average, most kids today are so detached from their families and their circumstances that when they have to leave the nest they don't know where to begin. They have become totally accustomed and dependent on their parents' care. They are clueless regarding financial obligations and the cost of their education, or the cost of living in general.

John Taylor Gatto mentions in his book, the "Underground History of American Education", at how long ago kids were expected to be on their own, and now how our education system purposefully extends childhood. He cites some stories which demonstrate how kids were so much more independent years ago.
Our official assumptions about the nature of modern childhood are dead wrong. Children allowed to take responsibility and given a serious part in the larger world are always superior to those merely permitted to play and be passive. At the age of twelve, Admiral Farragut got his first command. I was in fifth grade when I learned of this. Had Farragut gone to my school he would have been in seventh. You might remember that as a rough index of how far our maturity has been retarded even 50 years ago (i.e. when Gatto attended elementary school).
And yet, at that age Farragut was commanding a prize naval crew! There are many other examples of ordinary kids his age doing similar things at the time. This was not an anomaly.

Well, I guess my point is that despite the financial pressures of today (cost of living, cost of college, finding employment) in general, most parents aren't really training their kids to be independent. Some kids have cultivated a sense of entitlement, have never worked hard a day in their life, and do not have the tools to deal with adversity. The kids aren't realistic and are not prepared to lower their standard of living in order to be independent. It is quite sad really.

I am extremely proud that my 23 year old college graduate son is living on his own, is gainfully employed, and paying off his college debt, and can even be philanthropic at times. He's struggling in some ways, as we all do to make a living, but he is definitely his own person and in command of his own life, and he is most definitely NOT an "adultolescent". If he is reading this he should know that he has accomplished much, and he is absolutely a full fledged independent adult who has not fallen into a newly created paradigm.

I am equally proud of my other two grown children who are also gainfully employed and quite independent. They didn't want to "live in their parent's basement" and we didn't have to "push them out of the nest"- they merely wanted to go out in the world to pursue their own lives... and that is the point of becoming an adult.

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, I am posting the YouTube link to the full version of the "I Have a Dream" speech from 1963 for you to watch and listen to.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Annie Get Your Stun Gun - Tasers Go Civilian - Just Choose Your Color

The Hartford Courant carried this article about the availability of personal taser devices.
Taser International's's new civilian stun gun looks more like an electric shaver than a weapon designed to level even the most drug-crazed maniac.

The C2 comes in several colors, including "titanium silver" and "metallic pink." The device will tuck neatly into a coat pocket or purse, and at $300 for the base model, it's relatively cheap.
This lovely little piece of personal protection packs 50,000 volts, and that worries some law enforcement officials. The C2 and other civilian models are effective up to 15 feet and are designed to "humble" an attacker for up to 30 seconds.
Such weapons are legal to own in Connecticut, but they cannot be carried on the person or in a vehicle, state police spokesman Lt. J. Paul Vance said. Even when kept in the home, Vance said, a weapon such as the C2 should be secured as a handgun would be.

Taser International, which plans to ship the C2 to customers in April, shares concerns about misuse of the weapon, company co-founder and President Tom Smith said. The company is overseeing background checks for the C2; checks for previous Taser civilian models were handled by dealers. People can buy the C2 in stores and online, but can only activate the weapon after the check shows they are over age 18 with no felony convictions.
It is reported that about 70% of Taser's civilian models have been purchased by middle-aged men, and the company is trying to reach a broader market with this C2 civilian model. The article says it is a perfect gift to a daughter going to college.
Law enforcement officers throughout the country have praised the Taser as an effective alternative to deadly force, but the weapons have been controversial. In New Britain in the past two years, two suspects who were hit with Tasers died soon afterward.

Tasers are being tested or used by about 9,800 law enforcement, military and correctional agencies in the U.S. and in 45 other countries, according to the company's website. About 115,000 civilian models have been shipped.

Police in many Connecticut towns and cities are armed with the devices. Vance said some state troopers in specialized units have Tasers, and the agency is issuing the weapons to troopers in the field. Training is being emphasized, he said.

Well, now you know what to get your sweetie for Valentine's Day !!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Doomsday Clock To Be Moved Forward

The keepers of the "Doomsday Clock" plan to move its hands forward next Wednesday to reflect what they call worsening nuclear and climate threats to the world.

The symbolic clock, maintained by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, currently is set at seven minutes to midnight, with midnight marking global catastrophe.

The clock was last pushed forward by two minutes to seven minutes to midnight in 2002 amid concerns about the proliferation of nuclear, biological and other weapons and the threat of terrorism.

Read more here and here.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Throw a "Patriot Party"

If you haven't seen this movie trailer then perhaps you should take the time. The full scale movie, "America - Freedom to Fascism" is being shown across the nation in some theaters, and by people who have purchased the DVD and are throwing "Patriot Parties" in their own homes or rented halls. Perhaps viewed as modern Paul Revere's, these folks are trying to spread the word about this disturbing video and it's message.

This movie has been produced by Aaron Russo, who has done films with Bette Midler (The Rose) and Eddie Murphy (Trading Places).

Russo has this to say:

- Are you aware by May of 2008 the law will require you to carry a national identification card?
- Are you aware that there are plans being developed to have all Americans embedded with a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) computer chip under their skin so they can be tracked wherever they go?
- Are you aware the Supreme Court has ruled that the government has no authority to impose a direct unapportioned tax on the labor of the American people, and the 16th Amendment does not give the government that power?
- Are you aware that computer voting machines can be rigged and there is no way to ensure that vote is counted?

Furthermore, on his website he says these are his Primary Objectives and what we need to do to preserve our liberty:

- Stop the polarization of America
- Stop the domination of the Democratic and Republican parties over our political system
- Shut down the Federal Reserve system
- Return America's gold to Fort Knox and have it audited
- Have Congress and the IRS, in a public forum, reveal the law that requires Americans to pay a direct, unapportioned tax on their labor.
- Make computerized voting illegal in all 50 states
- Keep the internet free and out of the control of large institutions
-Rescind the law called the Real ID Act so Americans never have to carry a National ID Card
- Make it illegal to implant RFID chips in human beings
- Educate juries to the fact that they have the right to determine the law as well as the facts of a case
- Educate juries to the fact that they are not obligated to follow the instructions of a judge
- Stop Globalization because it is the path to a one world government
- Protect our borders
- Restore the environment
- Put an end to the Patriot Act
- Sign up millions of Americans so we can accomplish our objectives

So tell me - is this fear mongering? or do you think there is truth to his warnings? Russo seems to have done some legitimate research which has also been done by others (Bev Eakman, Ron Paul, Charlotte Iserbyt, etc.)

I share many of these concerns regarding computerized voting fraud, the development of RFID chip use on humans, loss of US sovereignty, and the issue of taxation (which has gotten out of control in many municipalities and state governments), as well as the abuses being perpetrated in our judicial system. I think that overall we have to keep an eye on things and bring issues out to the light of day, seeing as how we know how the media can bury things. At any rate, the movie that Russo has put together gives us lots of food for thought, and I think it's worth a view. It seems to me that with the advent of movies ala Fast Food Nation and Al Gore's Global Warming piece, that perhaps we may see more of these kinds of movies which seek to expose issues.
Don't get depressed though; get the facts, get active, and get involved.

Buzzwords of 2006

The Most Fun Buzzwords of 2006 as selected by the readers of, home of The Buzzword Dictionary: 1,000 Phrases Translated From Pompous to English, (Marion Street Press $12.95).
"Not all buzzwords make you cringe. Some are delightfully colorful,funny and sum up life in today's workplace," says John Walston,author of The Buzzword Dictionary and creator of
"And given the way the world's been going lately, we definitely
need something to laugh about."
Here's a sampling of the list:

Blamestorming: A group process where participants analyze a
failed project and look for scapegoats other than themselves.

Death by Tweakage: When a product or project fails due to
unnecessary tinkering or too many last-minute revisions.

Clockroaches: Employees who spend most of their day watching
the clock -instead of doing their jobs

Plutoed: To be unceremoniously dumped or relegated to a lower
position without an adequate reason or explanation.
This was chosen as the Word of the Year for 2006 !

Prairie Dogging: A modern office phenomenon. Occurs when
workers simultaneously pop their heads up out of their cubicles
to see what's going on.

Carbon-based Error: Error caused by a human, not a computer
(which we assume would be a silicon-based error).

Adminisphere: The upper levels of management where big, impractical,
and counterproductive decisions are made.

Bobbleheading: The mass nod of agreement by participants in
a meeting to comments made by the boss even though most have no
idea what he/she just said.

Ringtone Rage: The violent response by cube mates after
hearing your annoying cell phone ring tone for the 15th time.

(H/T Roger B.)

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Pudgy PreSchoolers

fat kid
Originally uploaded by acr photo.

This study by the American Journal of Public Health claims that too many kids are too fat by preschool.

Overall they found 17% of the kids studied/tracked were obese, with a study group comprised of 2,000 3-year-olds which were studied/tracked from birth and born to low-income families in 20 large U.S. cities. 32% of the white and black children studied/tracked were either overweight or obese, vs. 44% of the Hispanics so they are most at risk for health problems based on their obesity at such a young age.
"These children are already disadvantaged because their families are poor, and by age 3 they are on track for a lifetime of health problems related to obesity," said lead researcher Rachel Kimbro of the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Researchers were having trouble finding out what the major disparities were between ethnic groups. Poverty was a factor, but they seem to think that a major contributor was whether or not kids still used a bottle at the "stunning age of 3". This statement leads me to wonder how many of their test subjects were breastfed.

Overall their finding supports other research that "one of the most common causes of overweight in children is overfeeding," said Dr. Philip Nader, a pediatrician and professor emeritus at the University of California at San Diego.

Ok... so these researchers needed a huge study to tell them that if you feed a kid too much he'll get fat? I don't have a fancy degree and I could have told them that!
Can you imagine having your kids studied and tracked for 3 years for them to come up with this common sense conclusion?

Now the big question is what kind of stupid public policy is going to be developed with these findings? Perhaps they determine that sending your child to bed with a bottle is child neglect. Perhaps they will mandate that you cannot bottle feed them after a certain age. Perhaps this will spur the development of lowfat/fat free, "calorie conscious" formulas that will be subsidized and doled out in hospital birthing centers. Yup, I can see it now baby formula with aspartame, or Splenda or some other toxic garbage for babies to ingest. Then let's see how many more brain and nervous system damaged kids we'll have.

Yup - kids are getting less exercise, less fresh air, less good food, less clean water, and less real play time.... No wonder they are obese. It doesn't take a genius to figure out what some of the causes are.

CT Secretary of State's Office Misuses Funds

Posted in the Bristol Press 1/10/07 was this article about how
a 20-foot-long blue and white banner appeared on the fence outside the Secretary of the State’s Office at 30 Trinity St, just in time for the inaugural parade.
The sign carried the state seal of Connecticut and the words "Congratulations Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz." It was positioned facing the street that was part of the parade route and was impossible to miss for those marching (including Bysiewicz) or anyone watching the event.

The congratulatory banner to the newly re-elected Democrat secretary of the state was put up by the state at what was going to be a cost of $800 in taxpayer money. It wasn’t removed until Tuesday evening, about three hours after a New Haven Register reporter began asking questions.

"It was my idea," Deputy Secretary of the State Lesley D. Mara said of the banner Tuesday. "We did use state money for it. ... I looked at it as an appropriate use of state money."
I think Mara ought to be fired if she thinks this is a good use of my hard earned tax dollar. She did it as a surprise for her boss and denied it was intended as a political advertisement for Bysiewicz, who has made no secret of her desire to someday run for governor. Mara thought it would be "good for morale." Well I have news for her, it isn't good for MY morale. I am tired of funding these stupid and wasteful things.
Not long after Mara said she thought the sign was an appropriate use of state money, Bysiewicz said, "As soon as we receive the bill, the sign will be paid for out of our citizenship awards fund."
So that's just as bad. Instead of taxpayer funds, Bysiewicz, wants to use voluntary contributions from businesses and individuals which is supposed to be used as money for public service awards to poll workers and others who have made outstanding contributions as citizens.

Both of them ought to be ashamed of themselves, and should pay the $800 for that banner out of their own pockets. It should not be paid for by our tax money nor by donated funds, like the Citizenship awards fund, meant for other purposes.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Wilton CT, Home of TeenScreen Executive, Leslie McGuire

I find it interesting that the school system in this state that has been used somewhat as a model in CT for mental health screening/testing (and the implementation of later school start times and a whole bunch of other "health initiatives") is the Wilton School system, which is also the "home" to TeenScreen's Director, Leslie McGuire. Leslie McGuire, director of Columbia University’s TeenScreen Program, has lived in Ridgefield, CT, for the past 4 years, and is working toward a nationwide effort to identify young people with mental health risks.

Despite the fact that the number of teen suicides has declined and the rate of teen suicide in CT is very small, she and others are promoting these screening programs. Rob Caruano, former TeenScreen director stated to a reporter for the South Bend Tribune: "Teen suicides, while tragic, are so rare that (any) study would have to be impossibly huge to show a meaningful difference in mortality between screened and unscreened students. You'd have to be screening almost the whole country to reach statistical significance.''

In a recent article in the Ridgefield Press,(Dec 14 2006, TEENAGERS: Many students have suicidal thoughts, Ridgefield expert says) it is claimed that roughly 300 Ridgefield High School students have likely contemplated suicide, some 230 have made a suicide plan, and close to 160 have made an attempt, based on national statistics being extrapolated to Wilton's 1,750 teenagers. They also featured another article about this issue.

Apparently, Wilton's kids are struggling and really depressed and preoccupied with thoughts of wanting to kill themselves. McGuire claims that, “About 17% of U.S. high school students report having thought seriously about killing themselves in the past year, and 9% report having made a prior suicide attempt,”. McGuire claims that regarding more general mental and emotional troubles, “About 20% of U.S. teens have a mental disorder that causes some impairment and 10% have a disorder that causes significant impairment,”.

Furthermore she claims that parents cannot tell if their kids are having mental problems. “You look at the national statistics, it shows parents can’t tell. Most kids with mental illness aren’t known to their parents, aren’t known to school professionals, and they’re not getting the help that they need.”

McGuire has spoken to the Wilton/Ridgefield community. They have been sold on the TeenScreen program which screens for depression, anxiety disorders, drug and alcohol abuse disorders. She touts 15 years of research proving that her program accurately identifies teens who are at risk.

Ok - let me tell you a little bit more about TeenScreen that the Ridgefield piece neglected to mention:

These programs are really marketing programs by the pharmaceutical companies.
Check this funding diagram

Read the real scoop behind the players of this attempt to screen every school child in America.

Leslie McGuire has stated that TeenScreen has a big goal:
* “We — our goal, we have a big one. We want every child in America to get a mental health checkup.”
* “…we believe this is something that every child in America deserves.”
* “This is also something we believe should be an annual requirement …”
* “Our one group isn't going to be able to ensure that every child in America gets a mental health checkup so we're creating partnerships with advocates, state departments of mental health, with school districts, education associations, service agencies and other places so that they can help us create this new initiative. There are a number of organizations that have signed on and agree with our goal that every child in America should get a mental health checkup”.
During McGuire's presentation at the national NAMI convention June 2005:
* "Getting the kids to buy in is such an essential thing because for the most part, you're distributing the consent forms to the kids to bring home to their parents and bring them back. So you have to get their buy in, you have to get them interested in it." When asked about "incentives", McGuire replied: "Hollywood Video coupons, you get that regardless. Even if the form says no, you still get the reward."
One incentive for taking the test, some students admit, is a chance to miss class.

You can read more of her quotes here
One such gem is this:
Leslie McGuire admits that the TeenScreen program gives frequent erroneous indications (upwards of 84% according to TeenScreen founder, Dr. David Shaffer) that could incorrectly land kids in psychiatric hands and on psychiatric drugs: "...the TeenScreen does have a problem with false-positives..."
Knowing that McGuire is a local resident, answers the question as to why Wilton CT is one of the few school systems in CT to have been duped into subjecting their kids to this nonsense. Screening lines the pockets of TeenScreen executives (like McGuire) and the pockets of the pharmaceutical industry as well as scads of therapists and psychiatric doctors. Screening programs have been proven to cause suicide ideation, and to funnel kids into the psycho/pharmaceutical pipeline. They produce false positive identification, stress to families, and kids have ended up unnecessarily medicated. The lawsuits against school systems have just begun.

Contact your school boards, your state legislators, your tax associations, and other officials and let them know you don't want your tax dollars spent on the wholesale mental health screening of our kids.